We have a family on its way! (OK they’re not actually on a plane but soon, soon!) Just a few short days after being advised by our MP and our sponsorship agreement holder that the best case scenario would now see privately sponsored Syrian refugee families arriving in late 2016, early 2017, something, somehow happened and we now anticipate the arrival of a family of six (mom, dad, three young children and a baby, approved and travel-ready) in six short weeks! In light of the recent disheartening slowdown in the private sponsorship program, we had been moments away from subletting the apartment we’d leased, when we received this welcome news yesterday.
What a strange ride it’s been since my last post. At that time we were anticipating hearing about “our” family any day. (I use the quotation marks because I feel it’s presumptuous to imply that the family we will sponsor belongs to us in any way, but for want of a better expression, it’s what I’m using.)
Just as we were moving into high gear – lease signed, apartment cleaned, repairs and move-in completed – the government was quietly removing its refugee screening infrastructure from the conflict region. And quite abruptly, the process of getting families from there to here became much more cloudy, cumbersome and protracted.
We attended a standing-room-only meeting the other night at which many Torontonians vented their frustration at this turn of events. Like hundreds of other sponsoring groups across the country, we’d quickly stepped up to help when the call went out last year. Money was raised, donations collected, housing secured. Good will rolled in. Collectively, groups like ours are ready to receive, house and support families in need, only to be told the entire application and screening program has almost ground to a halt. Many of these groups have actually been assigned a family – even communicated with them by phone and email – only to learn they are now stranded in camps or in appalling living conditions, their children unable to attend school for potentially years, because they lack the needed paperwork to travel. That is one of the parts of this crisis that pains me deeply: all these children unable to go to school and live any semblance of a normal life.
Over many decades, we’ve welcomed to Canada countless displaced and persecuted people in need of protection, security, and an opportunity to rebuild their lives
This is not how this was supposed to play out. Desperate families fleeing the worst humanitarian crisis in decades were given hope. Willing Canadians stepped up. An election promise of 25,000 refugees was fulfilled to great fanfare, but then the wheels of the program were quietly removed. Sponsoring groups are keeping the heat on the government and some small changes have been announced in recent days, but more is needed to quickly match desperate families with ready and willing Canadians.
As John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, wrote in an op-ed piece for the Globe & Mail just a few short months ago:
“Over many decades, we have welcomed to Canada countless displaced and persecuted people in need of protection, security, and an opportunity to rebuild their lives in our blessed country. We welcomed 37,000 Hungarian refugees in a single year way back in 1956-57. Under the leadership of Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark, we welcomed over 60,000 Vietnamese boat people in the late 1970s. We have received thousands of refugees in short order from Uganda, Kosovo and many other places. So as Canadians heed the call to come together in a great national effort … I have no doubt we will prove up to the task.”
We are one of the few lucky groups to look forward to welcoming a family reasonably soon – fingers and toes all crossed that everything proceeds as planned. But as we’ve learned thus far, this is a very fluid process!
From the political back to the practical: if you’re reading this post and have any baby gear or children’s clothing to donate, I can find it a very good home 🙂